BY: AMY HABEN
If I could change the story of my life, Neil Young would be my father. I came to this conclusion at age fifteen and two decades later I feel exactly the same way. From what I’ve read, Neil is an attentive father to his three children: Amber Jean, Zeke and Ben. Zeke is the victim of a brain aneurism that erupted while actress Carrie Snodgress was pregnant with him. Neil’s wife Pegi, whom he divorced last year after 36 years of marriage, also gave birth to a disabled son (Ben was born with cerebral palsy). Neil’s annual Bridge School Benefit Concert is a non-profit affair where musicians come together in Mountain View, California to play acoustic sets in order to raise money for schools that teach children with speech or physical impairments. He also co-founded Farm Aid with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, a non-profit that helps raise money for farmers.
Neil often shows his infatuation for a woman by writing her a love song. He wrote “A Man Needs A Maid” after watching Carrie Snodgress in Diary of a Mad Housewife. They met soon after and moved in together. With that song title– no wonder they broke up! (ba- dum- dum) “Unknown Legend” was written about his wife Pegi, who was a waitress at a diner near his ranch when they met. Eventually she joined the stage with Neil singing backup vocals. Now that Young has been dating actress Daryl Hannah, I bet there will be a love song penned for the Splash star.
*The grass still doesn’t grow where the original Woodstock stage sat.
I was invited to see Neil Young at The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Swan Lake, New York by friends after the original ticket holder was asked to perform with his band, The Heavy Howl, for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It took us almost four hours to get there (the traffic was terrible) but once we arrived it was well worth it. The grounds are smack dab next to the original spot of the legendary Woodstock Festival. My friends and I wandered over and noticed the grass still doesn’t grow where the original stage was. On the hill a peace sign is kept freshly mowed in the grass.
When Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young were invited to play Woodstock, they had only recently formed. With a start time of 3 a.m. on a Monday morning, they must’ve known they were not the priority act. Nervous and very worried of embarrassing themselves, Steven Stills said, “This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man. We’re scared shitless.”
Neil wasn’t happy with the performance and requested removal of his name from the soundtrack and the film. David Crosby and Stephen Stills appeared on The Dick Cavett Show the next day still wearing their mud-caked clothing.
Recently, Donald Trump played Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” at his presidential campaign launch in NYC. Young issued a statement distancing himself from Trump’s campaign and complaining about the songs usage claiming Trump didn’t have permission. (According to CNN, Young has been publicly backing Bernie Sanders).
Trump’s people claim that they payed for a license to use the song (For public events, you only need to buy a license, not ask the artist). Trump has since called Young a hypocrite for asking him for money on an audio deal (Young’s Pono system, which is a portable high quality media player and download service). Young also purchased stock from Trump and took a photo shaking hands with him. Young’s people have since agreed that Trump did buy the license through ASCAP but that they will not let him use it again. Trump childishly tweeted, “Neil Young’s song, “Rockin’ In The Free World” was just one of 10 songs used as background music. Didn’t love it anyway.”
Maybe Young just appreciates money AND mexicans…
Back at Woodstock, I grabbed some pizza and took my seat in the Bethel Arts amphitheater which was an incredibly small venue for someone as popular as Neil Young. Even people with cheap lawn seats could see clearly. I’m so happy I made that journey for the view alone!
Puss N’ Boots, a female country rock band, were the opening act. The group features Norah Jones, the daughter of Ravi Shankar, who also had success in 2002 with her solo hit “Come Away With Me.” Catherine Popper is the bassist and fellow singer. They were definitely a crowd pleaser. Catherine mentioned that Neil said they should change their name to “Daughters of the Revolution,” but the name was a lot to live up to, so they decided to stick with their original name.
My thirty something pals and I felt like babies in this crowd of mainly 50- 65 year olds. And let me tell you… these folks got trashed! I’ve never seen so many gray haired, tie dye shirt wearing folks dancing, stumbling and making out in my life! It was obvious that the hippies were feeling the Woodstock vibes in the air. I’m just glad nobody got naked (!)
At nightfall two “farmer” girls came out in overalls, planting flowers in pots and throwing seeds on the stage. They acted out their skit for quite awhile. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening, but later on in Neil’s set, chemicals were sprayed over the flowers by moon-suited individuals representing Monsanto, the agrochemical corporation which produces genetically modified seeds. Thousands of years of tradition of seed cleaning and replanting has been made obsolete for the most part. This corporation has sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement. Today 90% of soy beans, corn, and cotton are a product of Monsanto. Check out the mini-documentary on Monsanto that Neil Young was executive producer of below.
Finally, Neil appeared under the spotlight at the piano, wearing his harmonica strapped to his neck. He started with “After the Goldrush” followed by “Heart of Gold” and then “Southern Man.” I was grateful that he began the set with hits as it pumped up everyone up for the three hour set. Neil’s voice sounds exactly as it did in his twenties. I got the chills as he sang, “Cowgirl in the Sand.” So beautiful. And not only can he sing, but he rocks out hard on his guitar. Neil was shredding so hard, you would think he was twenty, instead of soon to be seventy years old! Neil mentioned that he had been to the area once before but it was quite different. He proposed getting drills and cutting up the pavement that surrounded the stage so that people could get closer. Yeah, Neil!
Young’s back-up band, The Promise of the Real, are comprised of five young men, two of which are Willy Nelson’s guitarist sons, Micah and Lukas.
Their anti-corporate concept album, The Monsanto Years, has some great hard rocking licks, but in my opinion there were just too many songs about farmers, pesticides, Monsanto, and Starbucks. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Young’s never dying love of planet earth, as does Daryl Hannah (they met while both doing activist work) but come on, Neil! Throw in a couple love songs on the new album and make it a bit more balanced!
The “Godfather of Grunge” (as the media stamped Young) played with bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana during his 90’s Crazy Horse days. The distorted guitars and freak outs showed a new generation of music fans who is BOSS. Neil taught us not to label or place judgement on our “parents music.” Young is so talented and kick-ass that he’ll never get stale or go out of style.
Neil never took a break during the entire three hour set and somehow managed to sustain himself on only one bottle of water. Curiously, his H20 came out of a plastic shell. Where is his reusable metal jug? I can only imagine he forgot it at the hotel and out of desperation drank from the evil plastic vessel, limiting himself to only one, risking fainting for mother earth.
Not that it was a competition, but he blew these boys–that were less than half his age– off the stage with his chord skills, ripping them to shreds. As he wailed, I sensed his youthful spirit exuding off the platform. Hey, hey my, my rock and roll will never die.